The Washington Post, the newspaper of record from our nation’s capital, is somewhat of a bellwether of public opinion on high-speed rail. Back in 2009, when Obama first proposed to build a high-speed rail network, Post editorial writers were all for it as a way of reducing congestion. In 2010, the paper published an op ed by a National Geographic travel writer who argued that the “benefits of high-speed rail have long been apparent to anyone who has ridden Japan’s Shinkansen trains or France’s TGV.”
By 2011, though, the Post was having second thoughts. In January of that year, the paper argued that the nation should “hit the brakes” on the California high-speed trains, the only true high-speed rail in Obama’s plan (since Florida dropped out). (This editorial led to a letter expressing the opposite view from Secretary of Immobility Ray LaHood.)
In February, 2011, the Post argued that joining China, France, and Japan in a high-speed rail race would be “a race everyone loses. Three months later, the Post once again hammered the California project in light of new reviews questioning both the claimed costs and benefits of the project. Somebody, please, stop this train” the paper added in November 2011.
Yesterday, the Post even opposed just loaning federal money to a private high-speed rail company. As the Antiplanner noted last week, a private company wants a $4.9 billion loan to help build a rail line from southern California to Las Vegas. But the memories of Solyndra and other solar companies getting federal loans, giving huge amounts of money to executives, and then going bankrupt may be too recent. The Post even understands opportunity costs, noting that, “As for jobs, any that the Vegas train creates will come at the expense of alternative uses of the money,” a reality not always recognized by journalists.
The Nevada group, which is backed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, may get its money, although the grant that the company is seeking is coming from a fund that was never used for this kind or size of a project before. But any expectation by Californians that DC pundits will support more federal funding for even a modified high-speed rail plan must be considered wildly optimistic.